Thursday 29 September 2016

Even the weather can't put a halt to Bryan's gallop

Legend of Irish Draught circles has no intention of hanging up his boots

Siobhán English

Published 18/11/2015 | 02:30

Ken Bryan's versatile Irish Draught stallion Rosheen Yeats made his public debut under trap at Punchestown in August
Ken Bryan's versatile Irish Draught stallion Rosheen Yeats made his public debut under trap at Punchestown in August
Ken Bryan

It may be winter outside, but even at the age of 74, Ken Bryan is not fazed by a spot of heavy rain and wind, and he is eagerly looking forward to the day he can get back in the saddle and follow hounds.

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"I'm not supposed to be riding as I picked up a slight injury a while back, but I might just sneak in a few days' hunting before Christmas," he smiled.

Ken's wife Dot and his family are all secretly hoping he will wind down from hunting in the not too distant future, but Ken has other plans as he heads into his 75th year.

For a man who only retired from hunter trials two years ago, only because he stubbornly refused to wear a back protector, and who prefers hunting three-year-olds to older horses, he has no intention of hanging up his boots just yet.

"I have some lovely young horses out in the stables and I'd like to get in a bit of schooling with a few of them with the Laois Hunt. And maybe I'll even give Yeats a spin too!" he added, referring to the versatile Irish Draught stallion who has given Ken and his family so much enjoyment since joining them at Mount Prospect Stud seven years ago.

Although Ken Bryan goes quietly about his business, he really is quite a legend in Irish Draught circles. He is also a highly respected producer of horses and ponies for the disciplines of eventing, showing, show jumping and dressage.

Born in West Cork in 1941, he was immersed in ponies from a very young age and enjoyed a successful few years in pony racing and hunting. In fact he last rode in a flapper race when he was in his late 40s.

Ken (inset) also spent much of his early childhood working on the family farm when it concentrated on cattle and tillage.

At that time his family was mostly involved in thoroughbreds, and kept such stallions as Golden Years, the maternal grandsire of Rockbarton, and several other top show jumpers.

Life in the 1950s was tough, however, and Ken left the family home at the young age of 15 to begin work in the drapery trade.

That later brought him to Portarlington, where he met his future wife Dot in 1961. They wed on June 9, 1965, and earlier this year celebrated their golden anniversary at Waterford Castle.

In the late 1960s the demands of work in the trade and a young family curtailed Ken's return to the equestrian scene, and it was in the early 1970s that he began to earn a name as a producer of young horses and ponies.

"There were a lot of ponies coming off the conveyer belt at that time, and one was sold for IR£28,000 which was a lot of money in those days. At one stage we had four ponies on four Irish teams in dressage, show jumping and eventing. They were a mixture of 128cms upwards."

While this was an impressive achievement in anyone's books, Ken admits that his children played a major role in the successful schooling these ponies.

Not surprisingly his son Gordon and daughter Fleur have since continued a lifelong interest in equestrianism.

In the early days Gordon did a stint with Jan Tops and, although he now has other interests, he is still involved in the family business at home in Rathangan. It is here he is currently testing the prototype for a new all-natural horse feed.

US-based Fleur, meanwhile, has maintained her passion as president of the Irish Draught Horse Society of North America. She is also a reputable coach and horse producer from her base in Kentucky.

"My other daughters Judith and Norma were not as much involved as children, but Judith's son Aaron loves the showing, and also loves his hunting now as well." The mutual love for horses also brought Gordon and his wife Caroline (Moran) together eight years ago. Caroline's daughter Niamh has since followed in her mother's footsteps and is a dressage stable rider at the Woodlander Stud in the UK.

"In fact it was thanks to Niamh that Rosheen Yeats has over 100 dressage points to his credit," Ken points out.

By Huntingfield Rebel out of a mare by The Conqueror and bred in Wicklow by former owner Pauline Furlong, the 16-year-old stallion can boast at having won a potential dressage horse class at the age of five. In the following years he won under saddle in numerous showing classes.

"But I always believe that horses should have more than one use and that is why I put him under a trap as well earlier this year," Ken commented.

In August the pair created quite a stir when giving a display during the Irish Draught Horse Breeders' Association National Show. Right from the start Ken ensures most of the horses and ponies broken for competition can also pull a trap, or indeed hunt, something which he believes 'crowns them' from a young age. None are schooled over drains beforehand, instead preferring to let them learn on the hunting field itself.

Aside from the time-consuming, but most enjoyable business of producing young horses, Ken can boast at having a remarkable career in the show ring with Irish Draughts. One horse in particular is Parkmore Pride who many will remember in the 1980s.

Purchased as a foal from his breeder Patrick Wafer for IR£5,000, he won at the RDS and several other shows with his dam Parkmore Jewel during the summer of 1991 before moving to Mount Prospect Stud.

A multiple winner in-hand as yearling and two-year-old, he then pursued a successful breeding career. One of his main achievements came when he sired a national foal champion at Necarne Castle. He was later exported to the US to stand at Fleur's own Parkmore Stud and died just a few years ago.

Of course his dam Parkmore Jewel needs little introduction as one of Ireland's leading Irish Draught mares of all time. In 1990 she became the first Irish Draught mare to win the exclusive RDS Breeders' Championship at the Dublin Horse Show. In the years that followed she produced the other registered stallions Carrick Gold and Parkmore Night.

Those closest to Ken credit him as a man with a great eye for a horse. As Ken's son Gordon said: "Dad might take longer than others to break a horse, but it is done correctly, and that is what people love the most."

One couple who has entrusted Ken with their Irish Draught horses for many years is Gordon and Olivia Bradley.

Under Ken's guidance their mares, Hard Silver, won a supreme championship at Tullamore and a colt by French Buffett won the Jed O'Dwyer Trophy for champion foal at Limerick Show.

Ken also produced the Bradleys' home-bred Ballycoolan Hero, who is one of the few full Irish Draughts to succeed in endurance here with rider Sam Linton. Ken keeps it 'traditional' in keeping with the demands of clients. "I don't mind producing horses with warmblood breeding, but all of ours are traditionally Irish-bred. In my opinion there are far too many inferior warmblood stallions in the country which is destroying Irish breeding. And with regard to Irish Draught there's also too many outcrosses."

One of the most valuable Irish Draught bloodlines currently at the farm will strike a chord with many breeders. "It was only by chance we ended up with the dam of the RID stallion Coolcronan Wood as part of a job lot. We had no idea who she was when we bought her," Ken recalls.

Though now deceased Augusta's Vintage has left her legacy through a number of well-bred offspring, most notably a young mare by Rosheen Yeats.

Ken also has high hopes for a colt by Mountain Pearl. "He is the last produce out of the mare and I think he is real stallion material for the future. However the loss of the stallion inspections for 2016 is a big blow as we also have a lovely thoroughbred we were considering putting forward." Ken concluded.

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